illustrations by Rudolf Koivu
Zacharias Topelius (1818–1898) was no doubt the one of the most influential person in our culture and society. He also enjoyed writing to children. In this book Kirsti Mäkinen has collected the poems and Christmas stories written by Zacharias Topelius. She also writes about Christmas in 19th century Finland in the farms, cities and even in Zacharias Topelius' home. We learn about the traditions that we still have: the potato and carrot casseroles, feeding birds and giving gifts.
The stories and poems are some what sad. The poems are familiar to me through Christmas songs: Sylvian joululaulu or Varpunen jouluaamuna (Sparrowon a Christmas Eve), where the younger brother dies. The translations are at the end of this post.
Talk about Finnish melancholy. Luckily we do have some more up beat songs as well, thanks to our long history with Sweden. If the songs of Topelius makes me cry, here is a Christmas song that makes me smile: Nisse-polkka.
|Lyrics of Chistmas Song of Sylvia |
Sylvia's Christmas Song
And now it is Christmas in my loved north,
Is it Christmas as well, in the heart?
And bright Christmas candles do spread their light forth,
To each little cabin and hearth.
But up in the rafters there hangs high above,
The cage that imprisons my soul's turtledove;
And quiet are now all the prisoners' groans,
But oh, who pays heed to a prisoner's moans?
Oh shine you, the brightest of stars in the sky,
On my Finland so far, far from here;
When finally your light in the darkness doth die,
Oh, bless you that land, oh so dear!
I never will find one of equal worth,
My dearest will always be my land of birth;
My country to praise, I sing Sylvia's song;
It e'er will remain as a song pure and strong.
Sparrow on a Christmas Eve
Snow has already covered the flowers in a valley,
the comber of a lake frozen in the winter freeze,
A sparrow, little one, has eaten the summertime food,
the comber of a lake has frozen in the winter freeze.
On the stairs of a little cabin there was a dear girl,
come, sparrow, with joy, take a seed from me!
It is Christmas, homeless my sparrow, miserable,
come here with joy, take a seed from me!
To the girl the dear sparrow flew joyously:
with gratitude I do take the seed from you.
The God will want to reward you sometime.
With gratitude I do take the seed from you!
I am not, my child, a bird from this land,
I am your small brother, I came from the Heavens.
The tiny seed, that you gave to the poor,
the small brother of yours, from the land of the angels, got.